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Published On: Sat, Jan 5th, 2013

JANUARY BOOK REVIEWS: Small hills and a few wolves

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A Small Hill to Die On by Elizabeth J. Duncan, Minotaur Books, cozy mystery, 259 pp., $24.99

A Small Hill to Die On by Elizabeth J. Duncan, Minotaur Books, cozy mystery, 259 pp., $24.99

A Small Hill to Die On by Elizabeth J. Duncan, Minotaur Books, cozy mystery, 259 pp., $24.99

A small village in North Wales is the setting for this contemporary cozy series featuring Penny Brannigan, co-owner of a day spa and part-time unofficial sleuth. Penny came to Wales from Canada after she graduated from college and decided to stay.

In this latest installment, the fourth in the series, a Vietnamese family buys the large hilltop manor house in Llanelen and goes into the nail and tanning business, which poses a bit of a threat to Penny’s thriving business. Out on the hillside, sketching scenery with a friend, Penny finds the corpse of her competitor’s nineteen year-old daughter, and that’s all the reason Penny needs to stick her nose into the investigation being conducted by her gentleman friend, Detective Inspector Gareth Davies. One odd sub-plot involves the theft of small dogs from the village, and another attempts to clear up the mystery of the corpses of a woman and a cat which Penny and her partner found in their building’s walls in a previous book. All loose ends are eventually tied.

This is a pleasant read, and a good bet for a lazy afternoon, but a better example of the series’ charm is last year’s “A Killer’s Christmas in Wales”.

 

The Old Gray Wolf by James D. Doss, Minotaur Books, Mystery, 344 pp., $25.99

The Old Gray Wolf by James D. Doss, Minotaur Books, Mystery, 344 pp., $25.99

The Old Gray Wolf by James D. Doss, Minotaur Books, Mystery, 344 pp., $25.99

 

This is the seventeenth and final book in the Charlie Moon series. James D. Doss passed on shortly after he finished it, and he will be missed by his fans.

Charlie Moon is a Ute tribal investigator, a bachelor, and the owner of ,arguably, the finest cattle ranch in Colorado. His best friend is Police Chief Scott Parris, a former Chicago cop. Daisy Perika is an ancient Ute and Charlie’s aunt. She seems like a half-baked mystic, but when trouble comes, her sixth sense roars into gear. Sarah Frank is a Ute-Papago orphan who lives with Daisy. She’s in college, but since she was a young teen, she’s been crazy in love with Charlie Moon. Those are the basics.

This time out, Charlie and Scott stop a purse snatcher dead in his tracks when Scott, a former football player, throws an unlikely pass using a can of black-eyed peas and drops the thief dead. Too bad the guy’s mother is a mob widow who sends a hit man to dispatch the two lawmen who killed her no account kid. While the unexpected hit man is on his way, life goes on for Charlie and Scott. Charlie confronts his long postponed decision of whether to sell the ranch and settle down with his pretty librarian, and Scott pursues romance with a lovely college professor. No one could guess just how much things will change for the worst.

Reading these novels is like sitting around after a big holiday dinner with an aged relative who spins a yarn in his own good time, dragging out the suspense until you can’t stand it, embroidering every detail and then letting loose with the startling payoff. The language is antiquated by today’s standards, but it’s so much more clever and genuinely hilarious.

 

The Intercept: A Jeremy Fisk Novel by Dick Wolf, Wm. Morrow, thriller, 387 pp., $27.99

The Intercept: A Jeremy Fisk Novel by Dick Wolf, Wm. Morrow, thriller, 387 pp., $27.99

 

The Intercept: A Jeremy Fisk Novel by Dick Wolf, Wm. Morrow, thriller, 387 pp., $27.99

 

This is a debut novel by Dick Wolf, creator of the mega- successful television series Law and Order, and it’s a winner.

Only days before July 4 and the dedication of the new One World Trade Center tower, five passengers and a flight attendant thwart a terror attack aboard a plane bound for New York. They are dubbed “The Six”, and the world falls in love with them thanks to an accommodating and zealous media. Like Russian nesting dolls, however, there is a plot within a plot within a plot, and Jeremy Fisk, the number two man in New York City’s anti-terrorism task force struggles to put the pieces together along with his colleague Kirsten Gersten.

Fisk has good instincts, and he doesn’t mind countermanding his superiors when he’s got an idea, and this time his ideas will take him and Gersten to the very edge of destruction for them, the people of New York, and the nation.

Wolf’s characterization of the American obsession with celebrity is dead on accurate as “The Six” are bombarded with offers of money, fame, book deals, movie deals and star treatment all the way.

What makes this novel seem more like reporting than fiction is the author’s use of recognizable figures like New York Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and President Obama, drawing readers into a story about people they already know. This book reads like its real. There are no literary flourishes, just solid writing, intricate plotting, and a lot of surprises. Highly recommended.

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